Memorable moments – Egyptian style
We left Egypt and the mighty River Nile behind today. We only spent a fortnight in Egypt but it was certainly a memorable stay. There is just so much history to take in, and so many sights, sounds and smells to contend with, that 2 weeks felt like 2 months in some ways. Before travelling through Egypt we’d seen countless documentaries about the temples, pyramids and history of this ancient land, but nothing compares to actually being there. The sheer size of the Great Pyramids of Giza was amazing, and the silence and serenity when we visited the Temple of Isis at Aswan (i.e. the Temple at Philae) was blissful. Other highlights for us were the temples at Abu Simbel (the imposing Sun Temple of Ramses II) and Karnak – both were so huge and impressive that it left us quite in awe of the ancient Egyptians. The Valley of the Kings was the most wonderous sight of all however. The colours in the tombs was just stunning – can’t even begin to imagine what the tombs must have been like when they were fully coloured and filled with treasures!
Some of the other things we’ll always remember about Egypt include:
- The incredible fortune we had in having places almost entriely to ourselves. Obviously the lack of tourists is a real issue for the Egyptians who rely on visitors for their livelihood, but for us it was fantastic. It was just great being able to really soak in the atmosphere at sites like Abu Simbel and the Temple of Isi at Aswan. Hooray for no (other) tourists!
- The incredible beauty of the Nile, with its lush green banks set against the backdrop of the Sahara desert. At dawn and dusk especially, that landscape just took our breath away.
- The food – especially the mixed grill plates (i.e. charcoal grilled lamb, beef and kofta meat balls), shish tawouk (i.e. tasty charcoal grilled chicken on a skewer), and kosheri. Food in Egypt is just so cheap too! For example, 2 lunch serves of kosheri cost us about $2.50AUD! Just be warned: all those beans, chickpeas and lentils can have some rather, errrr, noisy side effects.
- Speaking of noise, we have to give Cairo traffic one last mention. It’s pure, unbridled chaos, with a soundtrack to match. If anyone is looking for a good business to set up in Cairo, we would suggest a car horn fixing business. There are so many over-worked car horns in that city, you’d have gauranteed business!
- Cairo’s smog and haze was quite exceptional too; as was the rubbish in the streets. Not in a good way though. Unfortunately the lack of a stable government has meant contracts for some public services like garbage collection have lapsed and not been renewed. The result is not great.
- The hustlers, hawkers and touters. The lack of tourists was a mixed blessing in some ways: fewer visitors means we also had all the hawkers to ourselves too. They are sometimes very annoying, sometimes very funny and always persistent. There is one thing we would love ALL street vendors in Egypt to know: BACK OFF! Give us some space and we probably WILL come and ride your camel, buy one of your basalt statues of Nefertiti or come and/or try on some of your genuine Egyptian cotton clothing. But the high pressure, in-your-face sales tactics are soooooo off-putting! We bought very little in Egypt – not because we didn’t want to; not because the prices weren’t incredibly cheap; but simply because we refuse to reward the hawkers and touters for their pushy, invasive and agressive behaviour. It’s a cultural thing, we get it – we’re just not used to that very direct sales approach. But there are ways to be direct without being so damn pushy!
- Hand-in-hand with the hawkers and touters comes the experience of haggling and bargaining. Should you decide to buy anything, it’s not simply a matter of paying what the ticket price says the item costs – coz there isn’t a ticket price. On anything. EVER. The best approach, we found, was to treat every haggling experience like a game. Have fun with it, but be prepared to walk away if they really won’t budge on the price. Oh, and always do a bit of research to find out roughly what you should be paying for stuff (that’s where having a local guide is VERY helpful). At the end of the day, we also realise that Egypt is seriously cheap, and even if we paid a bit more than we should have for some stuff, those few Egyptian Pounds translate to just a couple of Aussie dollars for us, which we’re happy to part with in the name of entertainment.
- How we could forget the time-honoured tradition of baksheesh?! We’re just not used to tipping in Aus and it took a conscious effort to remember to take a 1EGP coin with us every time we had to pee to pay the bathroom attendant! Tipping wait staff, bathroom attendants and drivers is noproblem at all – they’re actually providing a service we needed. But the guys that hover around to “help” you when you don’t need help is just bloody annoying – and then they have the audacity to ask for a tip for it?! They were as annoying as the hawkers!
- Our favourite saying of the Egypt trip would have to be that wonderful, all purpose word: inshallah (translation = God willing). Egyptians pepper their sentences with this word when they’re talking about any future event – using it almost as a small prayer to help ward off any misfortunate than may stop said future event from happening.
We’re reflecting on these, and so many other thoughts, as we sit on the plane bound for Morocco. Tonight we’ll be in a new country, ready for a whole set of new experiences. We’ve got no idea what to expect from the next leg of our journey, but one thing’s for sure: we won’t forget Egypt in a hurry!